In this self-conciously hip and with-it portrait of life in San Francisco at the tail end of the hippie era, Jason Robards plays Matthew South, a veteran B-movie actor who is fed up with everyday life and who is prone to long monologues about how the machines are taking over. (Just imagine how Matthew would feel about the world today.) When Matthew gets into an argument with two people in a park, Anais Appleton (Katharine Ross) comes to his rescue and soon, they’re in the middle of a falling in love montage. Actually, there are several falling in love montages and they’re almost all scored by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. It’s easy listening with a hippie tinge.
Fools follows Matthew and Anais as they wander around San Francisco and have several strange encounters, none of which make much sense. For instance, there’s a scene where two FBI agents suddenly burst into the room and then admit that they’re at the wrong address. Why is that scene there? What does it mean? Later, Matthew and Anais go to a dentist and they listen to a patient try to seduce her psychiatrist (who is played by Mako). Why is that scene there? What does any of it mean? Everywhere that Matthew and Anais go, they see evidence that society is dumb and that the answer to all life’s problems is a love song from Kenny Rogers. Matthew never stops talking and Anais never stops looking pretty (she’s Katharine Ross after all) but neither ever becomes a strong enough character to ground Fools in any sort of reality. It’s a movie that preaches nonconformity while so closely imitating A Thousand Clowns and Petulia that the entire thing feels like plagiarism.
Anais has a husband, an emotionally distant lawyer named David (Scott Hylands). David isn’t prepared to let Anais leave him, no matter how tired she is of their marriage. He hires a detective to follow Anais around. It all leads to an act of violence that doesn’t fit the mood of anything that’s happened before. Cue another falling love montage before the end credits role.
Fools is one of those films that probably would never have been made without the success of Easy Rider. Everyone wanted a piece of the counterculture in 1970 and Fools tries so hard that it’s painful to watch. Of course, neither Matthew nor Anais are really hippies. They do eventually come across some hippies playacting in the street. One of them is played by future David Lynch mainstay Jack Nance so that’s pretty cool. Otherwise, Fools deserves to stay in 1970.